Canan Güllü

Chairwoman, Turkish Federation of Women Associations

Canan Güllü, president of the Turkey Women’s Associations Federation, says that “profit-seeking circles'” demand from President Erdogan to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention will not be met. (Photo: T24)

The Council of Europe (COE) Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence, better known as the Istanbul Convention was opened for signature by Turkey on May 11, 2011. The convention eliminates the shortcomings of the Law No. 6284 on the Protection of Family and Prevention of Violence Against Women, which was also implemented during that same period. The Grand National Assembly of Turkey ratified it; the Convention came into force by August 1, 2014. 

It is essential to underline that this is not an externally-imposed convention as some say. Following the decision of Nahide Opuz of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), it was Turkey that prepared for and rendered the presentation of the convention to the fellow member countries. In other words, it was not a trap that some countries prepared for Turkey to disrupt its social structure or damage the “sacred family.” The convention is also the collective effort of COE member states to create a violence-free Europe. 

The importance of the Istanbul Convention

By offering the most comprehensive definitions of violence against women, domestic violence, and gender-based violence to date, it is the first convention that imposes many obligations on states’ parties to combat all forms of discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, and gender identity, to prevent male violence and take anti-violence measures. The most important feature of the Convention is that it is the first document to legally bind European countries and set standards for preventing and combating domestic violence as well as all forms of violence against women. This is regardless of whether there is a biological, legal, or family bond (violence by exes or existing spouses, extramarital partners, family members residing together, relatives, or others residing together for example). The Convention, therefore, covers women and men who are victims of domestic violence, regardless of age (it comprises children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly).

Turkey’s pioneering role

GREVIO is the official body responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention. Dr. Feride Acar was elected as the first president of the GERVIO Committee in 2015, by the strong support from women NGOs of Turkey. Currently, Dr. Aşkın Asan is a member of the committee too. GREVIO requests periodical status assessment reports from member states. It also imposes responsibility on NGOs to produce shadow reports to contribute to the process.

 In short, the Convention has considered every detail and completed the shortcomings of Law No. 6284. But we, as women’s organizations, are denouncing the failure in the implementation. The ongoing brutal femicides are proof. The first step of having the will to prevent these deaths, which turn into mere figures, is putting an end to the government’s lack of policies on women and rendering the mechanisms functional. 

Right at this point, it is necessary to mention the counter-propaganda fed by disinformation, and the misshapen perception about the Convention. Media actors bound to the Government, sects, congregations, and other groups of which the common value is misogyny, claim that the Convention will lead to same-sex marriages and that it, therefore, disrupts the “sacred family structure”. These groups’ discourse, prioritizing the sacred family over women’s right to live, is all about not understanding the spirit of the convention in question.

AKP Deputy Chairman made the wrong move

The Istanbul Convention envisages victim-oriented protection, regardless of the victim’s sexual identity and orientation. The inability to understand this principle and to refuse to see the violence that women suffer does a lot of harm and directly causes more violence. And these wrong assessments and statements have been on the agenda of AKP Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmuş. However, the withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention debate that Numan Kurtulmuş started by saying “as we have duly signed it, then we shall withdraw from it” has opened yet another topic up for debate. How can Turkey withdraw from international treaties in the new Presidential system? 

As explained in the research of the Anka News, according to Article 80 of the text of the convention, Turkey has the right of denunciation at any time by a notification addressed to the COE Secretary-General. However, this provision is not binding in Turkey’s domestic legislation. 

In the parliamentary system, the procedure followed to withdraw from an international agreement or contract is defined as “it will be withdrawn from just as it came to force”. As the Grand National Assembly of Turkey had ratified this convention, Turkey needs the parliament’s approval to withdraw from it too.

As Turkey passed to the presidential system with the referendum held in 2017, the most significant provision of the constitutional changes was that the president was not given the power to issue a decree on “fundamental rights and freedoms.” Therefore, Turkey cannot withdraw from the convention via a decree that President Erdogan will sign. We believe Numan kurtulmuş is aware of this fact, and this calls for another question: what is the real purpose of this discussion?

Answering Kübra Par’s questions in a news channel recently, Lawyer Kezban Hatemi expressed that Aşkın Asan had to apply for Law No. 6284 and filed an order of protection due to attacks from this flank. 

The same group had attacked the KADEM (Women and Democracy) Association in September 2019 for defending the Istanbul Convention. What I am saying is that the content of this convention is not important for those who engage in these attacks; they’re more concerned about the political profit this opposition to the convention will bring them.

I do not think that Erdoğan, who was the leader of the ruling party when the government signed the Istanbul Convention in 2011 does not agree with the denunciation of the convention. AKP’s group Vice president in the parliament Lawyer Özlem Zengin, former KADEM President and Istanbul Deputy Sare Aydın and the President of the KADEM Association Saliha Gümrükçüoğlu are also the defenders of the convention. Although we do not think the same on many issues, we agree on the correctness and necessity of the Istanbul Convention. 

Respecting women’s right to live

This is a convention that anyone who respects women’s right to life has, will, and must defend; it is unassailable… The people who demanded this have not been in a human rights struggle. They are oblivious to whether the women who suffer violence in our country have a voice or prevention and support mechanisms against the violence. Numan Kurtulmuş tested the waters nevertheless

Still, with the circular issued by the Ministry of Justice in December 2019 and the circulars issued by the Ministry of Internal Affairs in January 2020, there is also a continuing commitment to implementation to execute the articles and eliminate deficiencies, which is a hopeful step. 

For the last time, every camp should understand that the Istanbul Convention cannot be sacrificed to internal politics. We won’t let it happen.